Historic cleanup of Lower Fox River completed after 17 years

Fox River Cleanup
The project removed 6.5 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment through hydraulic dredging. (Wisconsin DNR)

MADISON, Wis. – A successful 17 year-long cleanup in the Lower Fox River is complete through collaboration between Wisconsin DNR, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), tribal groups and many private organizations.

“This legendary accomplishment will fundamentally improve the way Wisconsinites live, work and play on the Lower Fox River,” said DNR Secretary Preston D. Cole. “Outdoor recreation contributes $7.8 billion to Wisconsin’s GDP. Thanks to this cleanup work, people recreating on the Fox River will contribute to that bottom line this Labor Day weekend in a way that was simply unthinkable twenty years ago.”

In 2004, the DNR began oversight of the project in partnership with EPA when the cleanup started along 39 miles of the Lower Fox River to address massive amounts of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contaminated sediment. The project removed 6.5 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment through hydraulic dredging, installing engineered caps spanning over 275 acres of riverbed to contain PCBs. Sand was also installed to cover 780 acres. Approximately 10 billion gallons of river water was restored in what is one of the largest sediment cleanups worldwide.

“We commend our partners at the WIDNR and EPA for completing the Fox River PCB cleanup project,” said Charlie Wooley, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Midwest Regional Director. “This is a major milestone towards restoring this important landscape.”

PCBs are toxic chemicals that were produced during the production and recycling of carbonless copy paper in the 1950s through 1970s. Three companies, NCR, Georgia Pacific and PH Glatfelter, remain active on the river to cover all current and future costs and ensure success of the cleanup for years to come.

“Completing the PCB clean-up moves us one step closer in fulfilling our given responsibility by the Creator, to care for our waters,” said Tehassi Hill, Oneida Nation of Wisconsin Chairman. “Soon, we will be able to catch and eat clean, safe fish from the Lower Fox River and the waters within the Oneida Reservation.”

The main goal of the cleanup is to reduce the risk to human health and the environment. Long-term testing is underway to check for PCBs in fish tissue, sediment and water. Current results are promising with PCB reductions of approximately 90% in river water and sediment compared to concentrations in 2006. PCBs in walleye are down by an average of 65% in upstream areas and are approaching the “unlimited consumption” advisory level. Testing will continue until cleanup goals are met.

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